by Adam Baum, Cincinnati Enquirer Photo thanks to Jim Schubert
GREEN TWP. - There's a clarity in the way Wil Rutenschroer recalls the past.
Few things of a life well-lived escape the 82-year-old man. As easy as blinking, the old ball coach returns to his time scouting for the Kansas City Royals, pitching all four years at Ohio State and beating Michigan his senior year to win the Big Ten Championship, or playing football and baseball at Elder, and even his first job at Terrace Park High School from 1955-57.
Rutenschroer, the first football coach in Oak Hills High School history when the school formed in 1959, would be remiss if he forgot leading the Highlanders in 1963 - the only undefeated football team in school history, according to Oak Hills.
Oak Hills went 10-0 in 1963, an unprecedented performance for a school just 5 years old.
"I went to Elder, but my name's on the Oak Hills football stadium turf," Rutenschroer laughed. "In '58, Oak Hills formed the district and the next year, we started the varsity team and we had six sophomores and five juniors who started and had never played football in their life. We went 0-9. Our first punt in the history of Oak Hills football, the kicker missed the ball, he swung and missed and the ball landed on the ground."
Rutenschroer stayed at Oak Hills until the 1979-80 season, before a short stint at Harrison, and then spent 17 years with the Royals as a pro scout.
"He's a walking encyclopedia; he remembers everything," said Jim Schubert, a 1965 Oak Hills grad who was a junior defensive back on the '63 team.
Rutenschroer said the thought of going undefeated never crossed his mind.
"I just went out and practiced every day, never thinking about being undefeated. Even when we were 9-0, I didn't think about it; I just wanted to beat that team we were playing that night," he said.
Ed Orlemann, a senior captain in '63 who played offensive line and linebacker, said the Highlanders were a team above all else.
"I remember a team that worked hard and I remember it as a team," said Orlemann, who moved recently to Fort Myers, Fla. "It didn't matter what happened ... if something happened, someone else on that team always seemed to step in and fill the gap."
The summer heading into the season, junior quarterback John Fricker was the backup, but when John Brengelman went down, Fricker fit the bill perfectly.
The Oak Hills High School 1963 football team, the only
The Oak Hills High School 1963 football team, the only undefeated team in school history. (Photo: Thanks to Jim Schubert)
"Fricker was the key to our offense and he wasn't even slated to be the starting quarterback," said Rutenschroer, who added halfbacks Ron Ense and Roy Kempf along with fullback Craig Campbell were perfect complements to Fricker.
The undefeated campaign nearly ended as quickly as it began.
"The thing about this team is we were so resilient," said Schubert. "We would get behind. We barely beat Greenhills in the first week. We just kind of wore teams down."
Oak Hills escaped week one with a 14-8 win over Greenhills. In week two, the Highlanders pulled away from Mariemont late, 30-0. In week three, they edged Norwood, 24-16, before rolling Harrison, 50-0, in week four.
"As the season wore on, yeah, you began to have a lot of confidence," Schubert said.
Orlemann snagged four interceptions in a 34-14 week five win over Finneytown before a showdown at Colerain, who was also unbeaten, in week six. Tied in the fourth quarter, Oak Hills beat Colerain, 22-14, thanks to a late touchdown run by Fricker.
Then, the Highlanders hammered Anderson, 30-6, to reach 7-0, before escaping a trip to Taylor, 20-14, with a battle looming against Princeton, a perennial power back then, the following week.
"Princeton was a big-time program with (coach) Pat Mancuso there," said Rutenschroer.
Two of the season's more memorable plays helped the Highlanders beat Princeton, 22-12, and claim the Hamilton County League Championship.
"Ense ran that 20-trap against Princeton, 84 yards for a touchdown," Rutenschroer said. "I can still shut my eyes and see Roy Kempf intercept that pass. Princeton was trying to come back against us. They started throwing the ball and right out in front of our bench I can see Roy go up and take the ball away from a wide receiver and we ran out the clock."
All that stood between Oak Hills and perfection was Western Hills.
"The most physical game of the year was the last week against Western Hills," said Orlemann. "It was a brutally physical game. All of the Oak Hills students used to attend Western Hills, and when the district started they moved to Oak Hills. There was a rivalry there, we were 9-0 and they wanted to spoil our season."
The Highlanders went up 16-0 in the first quarter on the Mustangs and that ended up being the final.
"We picked up coach and threw him in the shower after that," said Schubert. "It was like a dream come true."
Rutenschroer said, "That season put our program on the map." [Read More]